Deficits in executive function and suppression of default mode network in obesity
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BACKGROUND: Although nutritional and metabolic factors are well established in obesity, neurocognitive determinants are less understood. Using data from the Human Connectome Project, this study concurrently investigated neurocognitive performance, neural activation during a working memory task, and cortical brain morphometry in relation to obesity in a group of young adults, 22-35 years old. METHODS: Using a case-control design, obese individuals (n = 243, body mass index [BMI] ≥ 30 kg/m2) were compared to a control group of lean BMI individuals (n = 469, BMI = 18-24.9 kg/m2). Performance tests comprised a battery of behavioral neurocognitive assessments. Neural activity was measured as blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) activity during an N-Back task using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Cortical morphometry included indices of volume, thickness, and surface area. RESULTS: Relative to the control group, the obese group exhibited significantly worse performance in terms of the National Institutes of Health Toolkit (NIH) 9-Hole Peg Board, Penn Working Memory Test, Delay Discounting, Penn Progressive Matrices, NIH Picture Vocabulary Test, Dimensional Change Card Sort Test and the in-scanner N-Back working memory test (FDR-corrected ps<0.05; ds = 0.231-0.405). The obese group also exhibited significantly greater BOLD activation in N-Back task-negative regions, including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate, and right precentral gyrus (FDR-corrected ps<0.05). Supplemental functional connectivity analyses provided evidence that the implicated regions were part of the default mode network. Significant differences in morphometry were present in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, rostral anterior cingulate cortex, inferior and superior parietal gyri, and temporal pole (FDR-corrected p<0.001). A data-driven integrative model classified 73.8% of participants correctly. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: This multimodal investigation suggests diverse aspects of neurocognition are associated with obesity, particularly implicating deficits in executive function and ineffective suppression of the default mode network.
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